Information on the Painting Techniques Used by Andrea Mantegna

by Nora Zavalczki

Andrea Mantegna was a 15th century painter born in the Republic of Venice. Mantegna is considered an early Renaissance artist, and in addition to painting, he also made engravings. The artist was appointed as court artist in Mantua, and is known for his good understanding of perspective. In the last phase of his artistic career, Mantegna distanced himself from his contemporary artists by adopting a sculptural style, which was a result of his admiration of antiquity. Andrea Mantegna influenced artists such as Albrecht Durer and Leonardo da Vinci.

Worm's-Eye View

The worm's-eye view is a technique Andrea Mantegna used to paint several of his paintings, including the frescoes for the Ovetari Chapel in the church of Eremitani or the Oculus fresco in Palazzo Ducalle, Mantua. This view involves presenting the subject from below, as a worm would see it. The worm's-eye view is the opposite of the bird's eye view, which presents the subject as seen from above. This perspective allowed the artist to create a sense of greatness and gave a monumental appearance to the subjects.

Trompe L'Oeil

Andrea Mantegna was among the first known artists to use the trompe l'oeil, which is a French term for optical illusion or "fooling the eye." The artist used a flat surface to paint three-dimensional works and he was among the pioneers of this technique. Mantegna mastered perspective well and this is visible in works such as "The Agony in the Garden," "The Adoration of the Shepherds," "St. Sebastian" or the "Three Scenes From the Passion of Christ."

Painting Imitating Sculpture

Toward the end of his life, Andrea Mantegna developed a painting technique that imitated sculptures. Mantegna's painting characters had the appearance of statues and they were clearly outlined. Examples of this technique include "A Woman Drinking" or "The Vestal Virgin Tuccia With a Sieve." Mantegna painted the characters in these paintings as a simulation of gilt bronze and placed them against a fictive background of colored marble. The artist used tempera on poplar wood. "Samson and Delilah" looks like a cameo or a relief in precious stone. This painting was created in glue size on a linen surface.

Painting Surfaces and Paints

Andrea Mantegna painted frescoes on walls and paintings on wood, typically poplar, which was a popular painting surface in the 15th century. The surface was treated with several layers of gesso, which was prepared from animal hide glue. The layers of gesso prevented the paint from being absorbed into the wood. Mantegna used tempera and oil colors in most of his paintings. However, he also used glue size to obtain the stone-like effects in his later works. In rare cases, the artist used linen canvases.

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